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Posted on 4th Jun, 2020



Digital transformation is what is at the top of everyone's minds in boardroom discussions today, for a large number of reasons: not only has the recent global pandemic forced everyone to beat a hasty retreat to the safety of their homes, going digital has also established itself as a way to achieve higher quality products and services, facilitate the enhancement of employee productivity, and encourage greater operational efficiency and cost savings.

While discussing these strategic cornerstones to business however, little mention is given to the need for workplace transformation. But,the former, without the support of the latter can be a recipe for disaster.


When formulating and/or rolling out a digital transformation in an organization, the risks of employees feeling disengaged, there being decreased productivity and turnover etc., can be daunting, requiring that significant attention is paid to the impact of digitization, on the workforce. The risks associated with transforming into the digital space, can be particularly seen in the cases of organisations with disjointed IT applications, systems and processes, which then result in a highly complex integration process.

For digital transformation to be successful, organizations must try to ensure that internal processes follow customer experience rather than being other way around. However, doing so, it must be noted, often results in there being a need for significantly radical changes such as the dismantling and rebuilding of processes and functional roles, as well as the demand for new skills and capabilities. When these new changes, and requirements are not handled well, the changes can have an irreversibly negative impact on employee morale, with this being even more so if the senior management has not compellingly communicated to the employees, the reasons for the transformation throughout the enterprise. Additionally, one must note that the existing culture within the company, is also a key factor impacting the transformation - for instance, if the prevailing culture at an enterprise is already one of fear or mistrust in the organisation, the employees are likely to be even more resistant to changes which they are likely to perceive to be employment risks, further making it difficult for the business to achieve the far-reaching goals of the transformation. The HR function, playing a key role in establishing and nurturing the organization's culture, hence, is a key player in introducing the change, as well as making everyone comfortable with the newness, and guiding the organization into the digital sphere seamlessly.


  1. The Rise of New Challenges, And the Need for a New Skillset

    A number of change programs at the organizational level are often doomed before they are even rolled out, as the senior management lacks the experience and expertise to guide the enterprise on a transformational journey; with skillsets needed for operational and transformational leadership, often being very different.

    More often than not, with an inexperienced leadership helming the transformation, the emotional consequences of the change, and the depth of its impact on employees is largely side-lined, to the detriment of the entire transformational process.

    At such a juncture, HR has a duty to step forward and assume a leadership role, understanding and facilitating understanding of the reasons for the digital transformation; and to then help guide the transformational journey without adversely affecting employee engagement, workforce morale, and productivity.

  2. Transforming HR Itself

    In leading the change programme, the HR function itself is likely to need to change; particularly, abandoning processes and systems which impede flexibility, agility. A perspective change must be brought about, if needed, from viewing HR processes as a set of rigid guidelines put in place to monitor, regulate and assess people, to viewing HR as being a facilitator in the art of building the right workforce.

    In being a facilitator rather than a minder, HR professionals must be aware that failing to articulate to employees the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ of the transformation objectives, and failing to constantly be aware of the organizational pulse, through the change, are both likely to yield a negative outcome. HR thus, must in facilitating the change, also be constantly in touch with the transformation’s impact, be open to feedback, and also regularly communicate with and handhold employees through the change.

    Some ways in which HR can help mitigate the risks involved in the digital transformation:

    • HR should encourage senior leaders to run a talent capability diagnostic before embarking on the digital transformation - While it great to have a brilliant transformation plan in place, it is not sufficient. The company must definitely assess its existing ecosystem to perceive possible skills gaps, which may impact the change adversely, and must take measures to fill these gaps before the transformation process is irretrievably affected

    • HR can facilitate the recruitment of the right talent at various stages of the change initiative - Having the right talent in place and critical junctures of the transformation can mark the difference between success and failure

    • Digital Transformation, as the case with any other organization-wide change, cannot and ought not to be thrust on an unwilling audience - HR must ensure organisational-wide conviction in the change effort at least by the time the process is initiated (if not before), by leading frank discussions on the reasons for the change programme and the workforce modifications that are likely to result.If these issues aren’t addressed until the transformation is underway, negative employee attitudes and resistance may already be embedded

  3. HR’s Consultative Role

    In the transformation journey, HR’s role must be viewed as that of an internal consultant or advisor to the senior management vide the implications of the transformation on the workforce. In this capacity, the decisions to hire relevant talent and skills in managing the change, can be facilitated as and when needed, to help smoothen the process.

    Through its existing role in the organization’s fabric, HR can also confirm the creation and implementation of a governance structure which allows for-enhanced decision-making competencies.

    Valuable advice on the dependable application of practices, tools and metrics in areas like benefits management, can also be provided by the HR domain, with the HR function also being able to manage those stakeholders who resist technology adoption.

With human capital being an organization’s most important form of capital, and HR facilitating the management of people to achieve their greatest potential, all in all thus, HR’s role, not only in a passive form but also in actively leading the organization towards digital transformation, is undisputable.